125 Years of Rock Creek Park: A Spring Tree Tour Essay

“Nature’s first green is gold.”

We were standing on the edge of a riverbank along Rock Creek Park’s Valley Trail, admiring the yellow-green catkins on a tall, strong oak.

“Her hardest hue to hold.”

This is when our guide for the day, naturalist and author of A Year in Rock Creek Park Melanie Choukas-Bradley, began to recite aloud from memory the Robert Frost poem so apt for this bright spring morning.

The park, a muted palate of browns and grays mere weeks before, was alive with extraordinary purples, yellows and fluorescent, otherworldly greens.

Poetry flowed throughout our group of 30’s six-mile hike, the second of four tree tours celebrating Rock Creek Park’s 125th anniversary that will, combined, traverse the length of Rock Creek Park. Though this time the poems formed from the newly introduced names for spring’s first wild blooms.

Spring in Rock Creek Park is feral; sticky-sweet. Spring beauties and may apple and trout lilies abounded. Bloodroot and wild orchids and skunk cabbage poked out of dense brush. This ephemeral bounty, all of it, stood in stark contrast to the dense forest just waking up from the toll a long winter takes. With the tenderness a parent bestows on a sleeping child, Melanie pointed out these sonorous treasures, easily missed by a less careful eye.

In the silence the depths of the park grants, the spring blooms spoke volumes. A world that had felt familiar came alive in small bursts, exploding with a warmth of color and texture. Every moment seemed to grant a new surprise, and even as we looped back along the same trail we took into the park, new buds, bright yellow, had broken through in the few hours since we’d passed. Though as Robert Frost reminds us, nothing gold can stay.